S2 E7: Chenjerai’s Challenge

May 5, 2017

“How attached are you to the idea of being white?” Chenjerai Kumanyika puts that question to host John Biewen, as they revisit an unfinished conversation from a previous episode. Part 7 of our series, Seeing White.


Download a transcript of the episode.

Composite image: Chenjerai Kumanyika, left; photo by Danusia Trevino. And John Biewen, photo by Ewa Pohl.

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7 comments on “S2 E7: Chenjerai’s Challenge

  1. Incredible series. Please keep this deep social exploration going.

  2. Justin Jan 8, 2018

    I am fascinated by the concepts of whiteness and blackness – it’s something that remains specifically undefined, but certainly is evident in the perspectives of whites and African Americans. There is controversy today regarding delving into the subject of identity politics and different kinds of privilege. I have two questions:
    1. Do you think whiteness and blackness cross political lines – for instance, do Black conservatives and Black liberals share a similar since of blackness?
    2. What do you think of the “Black Privilege” idea proposed by Charlemagne the god – http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/21/politics/charlamagne-tha-god-black-privilege/index.html?

    • to your second question, Charlamagne says straight up that what he means by privilege is that it is an honor to be black, while still acknowledging that systemic racism means black people still have to work harder than white people to achieve similar levels of success. He isn’t suggesting that there are systems in place in this country that make it easier for black people to succeed.

  3. Pat Adams Mar 10, 2018

    So far in my study of whiteness this is what comes to me.
    1. Whiteness and Blackness do not exist. They were created by powerful people so that they could steal from the less powerful.
    2. The discussion of racism in America is a distraction, a Red Herring. Racism was invented so that powerful people could steal from the less powerful. Powerful people use racism to create complexity, to distract from the simple truth that our history is one of continuous theft.
    3. Powerful people did not steal from Native Americans because they were Indians. They made Native Americans Indians so that they could steal from them. Powerful people did not steal from Africans because of racism. They created racism so that they could steal from Africans.
    4. This is not about exploitation or racism or discrimination. It is theft, greed. My friend in Mexico commented, “In Mexico the rich steal from the poor and when they get caught it is a big scandal. In the US you are smarter. First rich people pass a law making it legal to steal from the poor. Then they steal from the poor.”
    5. One of my direct benefits is my home ownership. Technically my house is built on stolen property. I bought fit rom one who “bought” it from the powerful people who stole it from the Native Americans. As a receiver of stolen goods the penalty is clear. My property is forfeit and I am imprisoned. There is no consideration of my good intent, no allowance for my ignorance of the law, no place for my story of how I was raised to not see this crime.
    6. My wife and I discuss the possibility of willing our house to a Native American young person (couple). We might do it as gift to our children and grandchildren, as a restitution for the crimes of their ancestors. We might do that instead of funding college for our grandchildren. It could be the greater gift for everyone.

  4. Emily Thompson Mar 28, 2018

    Not a mere “bonus, mini episode”—this is my favorite one yet. I’ve listened to it twice. Thank you!

  5. corrie Apr 27, 2020

    Thanks for your thought provoking interview. As someone who has spent many years unpacking her own “whiteness” and really looking deeply at racial equity work, there is a perspective that is commonly left out. This work is usually done by affluent, college educated whites and as a result a key component and voice is left out of this perspective. I am from a poor, rural white area. I felt proud on behalf of my community when I graduated from college and I feel shame and sadness on behalf of my community when I read about crime that someone from my community has done. I became so frustrated at college when I moved out of my state to Boston, when the only poor, marginalized people we talked about were brown folk, inner city folk and developing nations. Poor rural white folk were never brought up. I was upset my story was never told, connected to or recognized. I think a huge part of this work is helping bridge that divide poor, marginalized people across our country. I am very aware that my whiteness affords me privilege. But I am also aware that the similarities and connectedness I felt with the brown inner city folk WAY over my white affluent college classmates is something that sticks with me to this day. The more we can bridge this gap and connect people the more the real race work can be done. We are being played by a system that wants to divide poor folk. Not cool.

  6. Brian K Freeland May 22, 2020

    The ideal of Whiteness or Blackness is not a human distinction it was derived for racial capitalism for the purpose of economic hoarding. The root cause of “RACE” is economic.